The crowning of Donald Trump as Republican presidential candidate is sending so much panic through the GOP that some prominent party members are now calling themselves ex-Republicans. Never has a candidate been so unpopular within his own party. One faction even founded and bankrolled a “Never Trump” movement that aimed — and failed — to prevent the moment that’s now upon them.
At this point in the race, when all the other candidates have disappeared and one contender remains in the field, typically what happens is the party rallies around that person, forgetting the war-like animosity of the previous months. It is usually said that past conflicts were “nuance.” This time, very few prominent party figures are siding with Trump. The two most recent Republican presidents, George Bush Sr. and his son George W., have no plans of endorsing Trump.
It’s an unprecedented scenario, a delegitimization of the fact of the establishment and a sign of a wide break between the party elite and the base of voters who rate Trump over any of the more likeable characters in the GOP. It’s not a matter of being more or less conservative, but rather the composition of his character. Trump has none of the minimum ethical values that the party has always believed in (from the far-right, of course). White supremacist attacks are not (or were not) Republican values.
In the 2008 campaign, for example, after wild accusations from GOP voters that Barack Obama was really an Arab, Republican candidate John McCain strongly rejected their tone: “He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about. He’s not [an Arab].”
The one insinuating that Obama — a black man with an African name — was not actually American was none other than Trump, who led the movement to demand that the president of the United States reveal his birth certificate. That McCain cannot endorse Trump is evident, and he is not alone.
The super-conservative writer for the Washington Free Beacon website, Lachlan Markay, burned his Republican voter registration card and shared the photo, stating, “I’m sad to see the Republican Party embrace someone who has so thoroughly repudiated every principle that got me to join the party in the first place.” With him is Erick Erickson, the well-known writer and conservative commentator, who announced his farewell to the party.
Others are going even further, declaring their support for someone who, until recently, was their worst enemy: Hillary Clinton. That list includes Mark Salter, a former top adviser to the McCain presidential campaign, who made public his decision to vote for Clinton, as well as a former member of the Republican Senate staff, Joseph Shonkwiler, who wrote on Twitter, “I am a lifelong #Republican, but I am ashamed of #GOP today. Count me in for @HillaryClinton #NeverTrump #ImWithHer”
Even Ben Howe is with her. The writer for the ultra-conservative website Red State says he’s also a Clinton convert, declaring that “embracing Trump by unifying around him would be embracing his insane, pathological, lying, manipulative, destructive existence and saying, ‘Hey! That’s our guy!’ I can’t be a part of that.”
The Republicans knew and feared from the start that Trump, if nominated, would represent the dissolution of the party, leading to an exodus that not only could cost them the White House but could mean the loss of the legislative branch in 2016 elections. With a lost majority in the House and Senate, they could forfeit a say in the Supreme Court nomination as well. All across the U.S. government, Republicans could pass to the Democrats an infinite horizon.
The party isn’t sure yet how many Republicans will vote for Clinton, or how many will simply abstain from voting. But polls suggest it may not be an insignificant piece of the voter rolls. At the very least, there will be absences at the convention: The Bushes, McCain and Mitt Romney will be represented by empty chairs. There are still six months till the election, and many things can change, though at the moment it doesn’t seem the Republican Party can change for the better.
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